Ice in Desert? It’s No Mirage : Hockey: Kings, Rangers play in Caesars Palace parking lot tonight.
Most hotels here are known for their rooms, their restaurants, their casinos or their shows.
Caesars Palace has become famous for its parking lot. It put 24,000 people into its back lot to watch Muhammad Ali lose to Larry Holmes in Ali’s last big fight. It put a huge crowd in its front driveway to watch Evel Knievel lose to Caesars’ fountains in a daredevil motorcycle jump. It put 45,000 people in seats to watch auto racing.
Lawrence of Arabia didn’t have this many desert spectaculars.
Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns have fought some of their greatest battles here. Caesars has staged tennis, gymnastics, weightlifting and bodybuilding events.
What’s left? About three years ago, Rich Rose, president of Caesars World Sports, and several of his colleagues came up with the idea of outdoor ice hockey.
In the parking lot? In the desert? In the heat?
Tonight, we will all find out when the Kings face off against the New York Rangers in an exhibition game to be held on a portable rink in Caesars’ parking lot.
“When I went to them with the idea,” Rose said of his superiors, “the only thing they said was, ‘Can it be done?’ Around here, they don’t say, ‘No.’ They say, ‘Yes, find a way to make it happen.’ ”
Having already staged ice skating at Caesars in the late spring of 1988 in 108-degree heat, Rose felt confident that his scheme was feasible.
“I went to the NHL,” he said, “and once they got over the shock and asked me if I really wanted to do this, they gave their approval.”
Next, Rose contacted the Kings’ owner, Bruce McNall, who knows all about impossible dreams. Bringing Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles once seemed as unlikely as bringing outdoor hockey to Las Vegas in September.
McNall gave Rose his blessing, and Caesars undertook a search for a miracle worker who could bring ice to the desert.
It turned out to be Bob May of Ice Systems of America, a New York- and Denver-based company. May has a bit of experience in such matters. He first constructed an outdoor rink for the Syracuse Warriors hockey club in War Memorial Stadium in 1951. A veteran of 14 seasons as a minor league player, May, 58, has installed 151 permanent rinks and 14 of the temporary variety.
But never anything quite like this.
“This was a big challenge,” he said Thursday, a smile on his face as he watched the finishing touches being applied to the rink and the surrounding 13,000 seats, which are priced from $20 to $75.
May and his crew began seven days ago by laying inch-thick Styrofoam insulation atop the concrete of the back lot on the site of so many memorable fights. On top of that, they put plastic sheets. On top of that went 300 tons of sand.
Then came the refrigeration tubing, 22 miles in all. For a normal indoor rink, May will use 100 tons of refrigeration equipment. For this project, he has used 300 tons.
But it’s working. The 25,000 gallons of water used to create the ice came out of the tap at 88 degrees. In 2 1/2 hours, May’s equipment had lowered that to 16 degrees.
That was late Sunday afternoon. By Thursday afternoon, despite the fact temperatures were hovering around the 90-degree mark, the ice, under a protective tent, held at 11 degrees.
“We’ll probably raise that up at game time,” May said, “to about 17 or 18 degrees.”
After the tent is removed today, a reflective blanket will protect the ice until the sun sets. The ice at game time will be two inches thick, twice the level used in NHL rinks.
The finished product is a 192-foot by 85-foot rink, about eight feet smaller than most NHL skating areas, which has cost Caesars $135,000 to install.
But May knows better than to breathe a sigh of relief until the final buzzer has sounded. He remembers last year’s NHL exhibition season all too well, when an inadequate air-conditioning system left him with miserable ice for a game involving the Kings at Tampa, Fla.
And he remembers an ice disaster in a rink he put up at Bermuda.
“The temperature was 75 to 80 degrees,” May said. “Then, these 65-m.p.h. winds came up, and the ice was gone in an hour.”
The only possible problem facing Caesars are the thunderstorms forecast for this weekend.
“It won’t rain,” Rose declared.
May said: “The only thing that could hurt us is an act of God, a torrential rain of two to three inches.”
And what is Caesars planning for its next man-made miracle?
Although neither the NBA nor the NFL is interested, Caesars officials have long discussed staging either pro basketball’s All-Star game or the Super Bowl .
Rose believes Caesars could put a bubble on the outdoor arena and seat 16,000 for the NBA All-Star game.
Or it could build a 100,000-seat stadium in three weeks for either the Super Bowl or soccer’s World Cup or both.
Don’t laugh. It’s no crazier than was the thought that Gretzky might get yet another first tonight . . . his first goal in a parking lot.
Wayne Gretzky had his recently injured back checked and received final medical clearance to play tonight. . . . Forward Dave Taylor signed a two-year contract. . . . The Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins tied, 3-3, in overtime Thursday night at Phoenix.